The 2009 CRM Service Awards: Service Leaders -- Contact Center Search

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The Market
Search, of course, is a handy tool for finding what one needs, and while it remains a hot topic throughout the industry, its importance in the contact center has never been greater. Customer service representatives (CSRs) must quickly navigate product literature, customer information, best practices, and community feedback to find the most-appropriate answer to satisfy the customer’s needs; contact center search (CCS) is the term we’ve given to the tools that help them do it.

While more closely related to knowledge management (KM)—see Re:Tooling, page 49—sources say the CCS market has attracted the attention of search behemoth Google (which, while not a contender here for various reasons, might be considered an unofficial One to Watch). Companies in the CCS space are certainly no stranger to acquisitions, and Google has a lot of money.

On the other hand, a handful of recent studies show a slowing trend in the overall search market, of which CCS is a part. New product releases are giving way to refinements of existing capabilities, more connectors to other applications, and more marketing, according to a report by content analyst firm CMS Watch. “Some may see these developments as a sign that search technology is stagnating or that vendors are innovating less, and in some ways that’s true,” said Theresa Regli, principal of CMS Watch, in a statement. “But like so many other companies in this economy, search vendors have become more risk-averse, and are focusing on stabilizing what they have and selling smarter.”

The Leaders
Autonomy (etalk)
, our One to Watch in this category last year, certainly proved to be worth watching, as the company moved up this year to join the leaders. In 2005, Autonomy acquired etalk, which had a history in search and KM that continues to resonate. “The etalk line was an early success story in semantic searching, but was de-emphasized for a few years after the tech crash,” says John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA). He adds that it’s “good to see [the company] back, with some reference customers,” but that he and other analysts are concerned that the software’s infrastructure may not have been sufficiently upgraded in the interim. With notable consistency, etalk’s ratings were the lowest among the leaders across all three measured attributes.

A display of consistent strength across all ratings led InQuira to the top spot last year; despite having slipped a rung on the leaderboard, the company remains a strong contender because of its tight focus on the CCS space. “InQuira’s intelligent search is the last remaining best-of-breed solution not tied to a CRM or telephony infrastructure, making them a good match for mixed environments in which strong Web 2.0 integration is required,” Ragsdale says. InQuira’s offered functionality is still among the best, but some analysts questioned whether its focus had slipped while analytics gained favor. Others argue the analytical component is what makes the system better over time. Either way, the inherent strength of InQuira’s offering increases the likelihood that the company will remain a notable force in CCS for some time.

The Winner
Consona gets the roses this year, its functionality score of 4.4 a major factor in its overall success. Consona CRM, which now includes the Knova product line acquired in 2007, has a number of advantages, according to Aphrodite Brinsmead, an analyst with Datamonitor, such as a “fully integrated suite of CRM, knowledge management, and unified agent-desktop solutions, which it offers alongside ERP and [business intelligence].” Brinsmead also praises Consona’s multichannel functionality, Web-services architecture, and functional range. Ragsdale says it’s “great to see a CRM platform with best-of-breed search and knowledge tools.” He adds, “The Knova suite also includes community features for capturing customer input on content—a key to successful customer relationships in a Web 2.0 world.” 

One to Watch
Talisma’s strength in empowering customer service representatives to find the right answers helps explain its reputation for satisfaction. Recently acquired by (and rebranded as) nGenera—a Rising Star in our 2008 Market Awards—the former Talisma now has a stable and growing corporate parent, and access to a larger slice of the market, but may struggle to retain its identity. “Talisma’s biggest challenge may be maintaining its momentum for medium-complexity customer service deals, as part of the nGenera think tank,” says the SSPA’s Ragsdale. —Marshall Lager

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